Tag Archives: London 2012

2012 – Retrospective: Part 4 (London 2012 – “Games Time” @ LHR)

Previously: Part 3

“Get on with it!!!” I hear you say.

OK, sorry I will get to the excting part now. My “Games Maker” shifts starting at LHR for the London 2012 Olympic games.

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Me just before I set off on my first day as a Games Maker.

First shift
I woke up on Saturday 14th July at 4:45 for my first shift at LHR. I was due to start at 8am. My journey takes me from the middle of Essex to LHR on the other side of London. I approximated the journey time at 2hr:30min by a mix of car / train and walking! My route consisted of driving to the end of my nearest tube line at Upminster, parking up and taking the district line all the way across London to Hammersmith or Earls court and hopping onto the Piccadilly line to Heathrow T4. Happily LOCOG provided free Oyster cards for use during “games time” that gave you free travel on TFL services during your planned shifts. Other costs were not covered so I still had to pay out for fuel and parking every day, It wasn’t cheap to say the least.

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My Games Maker uniform always attracted attention from the other passengers.

I would leave around 5:30 and made my way to Upminster to catch a 6am tube. This first set of shifts were comprised early shifts compared to some late shifts I would be doing later on so the trains were basically empty for my early shifts, a very cool experience on a nice day into London, a city that was was quiet and just waking up. There were some beautiful mornings on the way in to enjoy I will always remember that, it was a special feeling ramping up to the games. I loved it as the train would get more and more busy and by the time I was at LHR it was super busy and “rush hour” was in full flow.

Now… I cant keep going on documenting every single event and part of my experience so from this point on Its more a day in the life of… (one of my GM shifts!)

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A day in the life…
Iarrive at Heathrow T4 where I had to “check in” for my shift at the makes maker general offices, this basically made my presence aware to the team and the managers and allowed me to pick up my meal voucher. Any general games maker relevant information for the day was also supplied but usually it just ended up being a quick chat on each others jobs, thing we have seen and what we have planned to do, this was a a common occurrence throughout all of the workforce actually, whoever you met, even BAA staff or the public, everyone was interested in everyone’s jobs, especially in such an exciting place such as LHR.

After checking in for the day I usually rushed to my office which was airside and deep inside T4, a quick trip though the security hall and a hop skip and a jump over the border and I was usually in the office in around 5 min’s, how I wish I could still navigate the airport at that speed as a member of the public (sigh!). I passed one of the accreditation desks I had to look after on the way in to the office and gave a thought to them as they usually started their shifts at 4am every day just in time for the first flight arrivals, ouch! That’s a lot of dedication from those staff I must say. Transport to LHR is surprisingly poor in the dead of night.. they all found ways to make it in from all over the place though, quite amazing. Just getting in at 8am for me was nearly mission impossible by train, especially at weekends.

Right outside the office.. always on time, every other day! I got to know it well.
Right outside the office.. always on time, every other day! I got to know it well.

Every day I would walk along a row of gates on the way to the office and as a fan of planes, trains & cars (whatever, you name it) I was always buzzing seeing flights from all over the world parked in front of me, I quickly noted the regular flights sitting at the same gates everyday. Soon I would start to recognise the individual planes and their travel patterns as they bounce back and forth from LHR to the world. My favourite plane was most likely the Etihad Airbus A340 in none other than the Formula 1 livery that you see in action on TV around the Bahrain GP I think. It happened to be based at the gate right outside the office so It was always a nice sight. A worthy mention goes to the numerous A380’s parked down the other end of the terminal, man do they turn those around fast and get them back on their way! All in all they are all such beautiful machines to be around daily. Is it sad to say they almost felt like friends, I swear I started giving a nod to the regulars!

The I.T office. No windows and tucked away nicely. No one can hear you scream down here!
The I.T office. No windows and tucked away nicely. No one can hear you scream down here!

At the office I would get up to speed on what’s been going on, any issues I need to be aware of and finally I would pick up a airport radio (walkie talkie) and was basically sent on my way.

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Time for a stroll…

Now… the way it works was, unless I had a urgent or specific task to get to and work on straight away the rule was simple as my manager put it. “Go out, have fun and get lost!” I did all 3, a lot! All that was asked of me is that I keep my ears out for the radio and be ready to attend any issues, wherever I may be! In reality we we always set out to do a total sweep of every bit of equipment every day at the airport and speak to every team out there to find out how the technology is performing and if there were any issues to report back to the I.T team. This is basically an entire days work. To put it in perspective remember what I said about how a terminal works.. you have “land side” pre border and security and “air side” across the border. LOCOG and the other I.T vendors have equipment to be checked on both sides at every terminal. Constantly crossing security is a less than enjoyable experience after doing it a few times and usually bouncing in and out security could add a lot of time to your travel time during peak hours. It was much easier to stay either airside or landside and use the relevant transport routes that each side provide to navigate the all the terminals in one circuit in that side and then jump across to the other and go around again. Yes, mad but true and boy is it a LOT of walking and sitting on various bus’s and trains. Still.. its fun at a venue like LHR.

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The infamous Heathrow “Pod”

Transport
So, what did I use to move around this giant place? Airside transport consisted of regular shuttle bus’s which were actually the terminal / flight connections bus’s that as a passenger you would use yourself when airside catching a connection on another flight. This is pretty much it, everything else was walking from point A to B when airside.
Landside was much more exotic when it comes to transport. TFL and every other transport operator operate a free travel zone in and around Heathrow so you can pick and choose whatever service you want and whatever would be fastest. I had the choice between the Heathrow Express (HEX for short), TFL London Tube and Bus’s and more curiously the Heathrow Pod’s that don’t actually go anywhere useful (for me anyway) but man were they cool, I will get back to those later. My preference was to use the HEX if a train was due soon or to just walk terminal to terminal!

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Empty “Accreditation desk”
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Another empty Accreditation desk

“How are things going?”
Once on my way and usually as part of a team of 2-3 we would travel to each location where our equipment was situated and have a chat to the team’s there about how its all going and if everything is OK, we would note everything down and plan to rectify the problems either same day or to pass onto the next shift to deal with on their circuit of checks. Rarely did we have to attend direct call outs as this pre emptive approach worked at solving nearly all basic issues. For example if we could see something was going to go out of action soon we could radio it in to the office in T4 or get on the phone to LOCOG HQ at canary wharf to give them a heads up and get it sorted before it goes wrong. Being I.T 90% of the problems were basic hardware mishaps and user account problems with sprinkling of empty toner to top it off. In hindsight the entire technology operation was so flawless at the airport its almost crazy to believe it. Considering the core I.T team based on site only number 5-6 people for the entire airport its quite something, some were based at the airport for over year, some two before the games action even began so really its a credit to the I.T staff on how well they orchestrated such a monumental operation, also credit to BAA because without them none of the operation could even have been possible. They put an incredible amount of time and money into preparing for the Olympics overall and the I.T infrastructure at a place like Heathrow is something you just don’t touch usually! It’s the amazing inter-business collaboration and hard work by many many people and businesses working towards a common goal made it happen. I don’t think your average event or job would ever inspire such teamwork between people of different employers to work literally next to each other hand in hand on the same job! It was a common bond and shared excitement that made it all gel together I think teamwork wise. A unique experience for me.

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Me with the Olymypic flag.

Lunch
Around mid shift we would stop for lunch and that means finding somewhere to eat wherever you happen to be at the time. Being at the airport there was always an interesting assortment of places to eat and shop. Having to go through duty free every day was very nice! I usually settled for something simple airside and went and found a quiet and empty gate overlooking the runway to sit and eat. Its this kind of access that I truly loved. The airport was not just a transport mechanism any more for me, it was something else, an adventure. some days I would make my way down the A380 gates in T3, other days just the long haul at T4 and some other’s in the BAA staff canteen.

After lunch It was either a matter of finishing the checks and having a bit of a wonder or getting back to base to pick up supplies or to report in to other people. When it came to having free time… I really exploited that part.

Adventure
Where to start… Well.
Having access to four terminals of duty free every day is an experience. If only I had the money I would of only spent it all! I ate at some cool places I would never have normally and got to see a bit of high end shopping and learnt how much those big diamond rings are in the window.. (gulp).

Outside of shopping there is other unique things at Heathrow that I experienced  During some free time I made my way over to the Heathrow “Pod’s” that shuttle execs to and from the business car park at T5. If you don’t know about these they are the super futuristic computer controlled capsules that shuttle you around like The Jetsons! Now.. once I got on them all those feelings of “man I shouldn’t be messing around playing with big toys” quickly evaporated  It was like a geeky transport mania day out. Pod’s, planes, trains, cars. Ahh!

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Exploring Heathrow’s unseen area’s.

History
A lot of time was also spent just exploring every nook and cranny the airport has to offer. I would walk to places and parts of the airport I have never been to and might never return to. My security access granted me travel to all public places both air side and landslide so I made a trip to many distant gates and points of interest and to a lot of the quiet area’s of the airport to have seen it all in years gone by. These are places that have maybe seen better days or are now either history or were literally about to become it. (The famous spinning radar tower being one of them, one day it stopped while I was there, It has never turned back on! 🙁 ) A lot of Heathrow is now either super modern or ageing and old or just in a state of transition and both at the same time. Some places are simply stuck decades in the past and have such a historic feel to them and others are cutting edge (e.g the Pod’s) Its really quite something seeing Heathrow as an ageing but constantly evolving structure. New T2 was rising out of the ground every day and the plans for the rest of the airport to be pulled down and rebuilt are all in place. It made me think It’s likely the last time I would ever be in some of the old buildings that have seen so much over the years… Now don’t get me wrong I respected how privileged I was to have this truly amazing once in a lifetime access to the airport and I always had the security aspect at the back of my mind (I wonder what the hell It looks like I am doing poking around here!? This is Heathrow remember…) I was in such a privileged position having such great access to the airport and I almost always felt sorry for being a burden just wondering around and also being a security nightmare I assume..  I wouldn’t hang around a busy gate for example of get in the way of people who have “real” business be it passengers or other staff. I would just politely explore all that the airport has to offer. I never got into any trouble and generally everyone was really happy to see you enjoying the airport, its a unique place to be. It was an experience that will never happen again so I grabbed it to the best of my ability and exploited it as much as possible. It was too much fun. Now you might be thinking at this point I just spent my time wasting time wondering about but it was far from it. I spent literally days walking to and from my points of work and I don’t really want to bore you with how many toners or wires I looked at so this all happened along the way this was all slotted in in my spare time much to my enjoyment.

Coming to an end…
Now to wrap this up… My work at LHR was coming to an end and my last shift for the Olympic games was the day of the opening ceremony (something I was invited and got the opportunity to watch to during a secret rehearsal a few days prior!) Knowing what was about to happen had me excited to a whole new level but at the same time sad to see my part come to an end, proper mixed emotions. I was due to finish at 10pm but we were allowed to get away at 6pm to rush back to catch the opening ceremony on TV with our family’s. And that was that (sort of, see below)

The end…
Now, I need to wrap this up… There was literally so much going on over my near month of time at LHR (I was invited to return to work the Paralympics too! so I jumped at the opportunity) …So I cant possibly write everything down here. It’s just memory’s now. I hope I  just gave a snap shot of my tiny part of the London 2012 operation. I was one of 70,000 odd volunteers and countless other paid staff and external companies. The whole operation was so huge it still stuns me. I loved working at Heathrow and I will never forget it. I loved the company of all the people around me and had some great time’s that I would never normally have in day to day life. Being a games maker changed me.. it sounds cheesy, maybe a lot of this does but it really did. I would never have thought about volunteering my time to anything or anyone before the games, but now I would jump at it again and I want to do more for other people now that I know how rewarding it can be. I didn’t get paid a penny and I was near enough was flat broke at the end of my time but I have never felt so satisfied after a days work than I did while I was a Games Maker. That is a poignant feeling that I hope wont ever escape me.

I am immensely proud of my part in the games and for the games themselves. It will never leave me. We did it and we did it good.

-R

Sunset at LHR
Sunset at LHR

Misc photos:

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A380
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A big Spanish contingent at T5
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Countdown
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A real Olympic torch!
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Podoraaaaaaama!
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Badges, pins and flags!

BAA “Fun Day”
As a Thank you from BAA they ran a “Fun day” for all volunteers at the airport both LOCOG and BAA in house volunteers. It was great fun and just across the road from LHR!

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BAA “Fun Day” in full swing!
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Stop!
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Another torch!
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Me and Katherine Grainger CBE, She kindly let me wear her Olympic gold medal. Only a month before I was watching her win it on TV!
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Shall I bite it? .. maybe not!

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2012 – Retrospective: Part 3 (London 2012 – Preperation @ LHR)

Previously: Part 2

So where were we then? Lets quickly recap…

I signed up to volunteer for the London 2012 Olympic games in 2010, I met the requirements and passed my interview in 2011/2012, I have started the training process early in 2012 and It’s June now and It’s getting serious, its time for my Venue tour. My “venue” is London Heathrow Airport…

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Airfield at LHR

So we left off with me arriving for training and later on a venue tour at LHR, It all went well, a lot of the process at the start of the day was security related… We don’t get it any more/less than any other staff member or visitor to the airport, and rightfully so. As we would be going “Air side” during the tour (as this is where my office and work is located) we bring our passports to hop over the border just like any normal passenger (although the need to carry a passport will be replaced with a special ID later on) We have already had various security tests, training and a mind bogglingly thorough background check outside of LHR just to make it to this point. My role was very unique for a games maker in this respect as we are operating in someone else’s private property unlike most other staff/volunteers and it just so happens to be likely the most heavily guarded and secure place in the country!

Quickly I realise more than ever that many aspects of security were going to be a big part of the work ahead. For this reason alone I didn’t take any photo’s inside the buildings other than a some snaps of the sky/airfield, the (incredibly fun)shuttle trains and a couple of portraits of me that you will see later on. It wouldn’t of been right for me to abuse the trust that I was granted to be in an incredible place surrounded by incredible athletes and to be taking photos of everything like a tourist, I was here to work and show the world what we have got! I felt extremely privileged to be part of the games and for my role.
I do admit it was painful at times to be in incredible places and situations that I wish I could capture in a photo, but I couldn’t, so I’m just left with the memories in my minds eye, and its actually made my experiences a bit more romantic and unique for me being that way actually.

Anyway.. let’s continue.

So, what actually is my role at LHR then? Well all is explained during my first day at airport  I was going to be part of the technology team supporting the I.T/Technology paid staff and organisations based there (ATOS, Acer, BT and LOCOG)  I would be supporting them on their duty’s and more specifically for me helping keep an extremely important couple aspect of the games operation at the airport up and running at all times: Accreditation and the systems running the Welcome Desks & offices for the transport team.

Transport and welcome desk staff relied on their systems to help them shuttle the endless V.I.P’s, athletes, teams, press, associated family’s, visitors and the occasional world leader out to their hotels and/or venues for the duration of the games.
For the accreditation side of things that was the system that produced the laminated document for everyone who had anything to do with the games would be issued with. You had to wear it as your identification and it showed your clearance to perform your duties at the games whoever you were, be it Usian bolt entering the track at the Olympic stadium, or a member of staff giving you directions in the park and even me working at Heathrow! we were all equal in this respect! You may recognise the actual accreditation documents as the white A5 documents everyone had around their necks on the colourful lanyards! For some athletes it also acted as their visa and thus allowed entry to the country so this was serious business on many levels.

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The accreditation document I am talking about.

All in all these systems needed to look after tens of thousands people who need to be processed and looked after in some way shape or form by technology managed by my team in the coming weeks. Gulp

So we went for the tour of the venue, Terminal 4 to be exact, this is where my office was located. My actual duty would see me across all of the 4 terminals (Yes there are 5 terminals, but T2 was and still is being reconstructed!) With this in mind no one single tour would show me around this huge set of buildings, finding you way around was set to be a massive part of the fun! Luckily Heathrow has it’s iconic signage, so its not too bad once you know what to look for I found. As I mentioned before my work and office would see me travelling air side(past the border, where you go to board your plane!) and back to landside area’s over and over again so I got my first taste of security control and border control under my belt utilising the the staff channels which speeds things up.

It was all over very quickly, I recognised some of the area’s I had been to before as a passenger before but to be honest I hadn’t scratched the surface. We visited the office, some of the accreditation desks and other airport facilities and generally learnt how to navigate the airport as staff which is… inexplicable to say the least. I came to think of navigating the terminals as jumping between slices of a sandwich, you go up, down, left, right, back on yourself and take some short cuts all along the way. Bare in mind you will often be going against the most rigidly controlled and flowing system of walkways designed to ferry people in ONE direction at all times, so it gets odd  going backwards and between different area’s to say the least! My brain was always aching with disorientation at the end of the day that’s for sure!

I got home, exhausted after a long day, but very excited for my shifts to start, which wasn’t too far away, I would be working the 2 weeks before opening ceremony as this is when the majority of the Olympic bandwagon would be arriving in the country and so this was the “critical” period for my team.

Olympic activities were ramping up all around the country at this point and my home town of Basildon was lucky enough to get a Olympic torch visit.. how I wish I could hold one of those… hmm.

That’s it for now, the preparation is over

Next up.. “Games Time” (sort of)

-R

 

2012 – Retrospective: Part 2 (London 2012 – Interview + Training)

Previously Part 1

So, shortly after leaving my not to be dream teaching job I ended up back at my retail job that I originally took up during university, which is not a bad thing. It pays bills, I like the work and the people are good, that will do me for now. Don’t get me wrong, I want the “perfect” job and job fulfilment and satisfaction just like everyone else and retail doesn’t do it for me entirely but I have other things up my sleeve so I’m not too worried about that dreaded “dead end job” that everyone speaks about, maybe I can talk about that later.
To go off on a small tangent, my point here is that from speaking to people about my job history to date people get too caught up in what they think I should be doing. I don’t really care about that, if it was true I would be there now wouldn’t I? As I said before, I think you should follow your instinct and don’t get too caught up on what everyone else (or even you, yourself sometimes) think you “should” be doing.

Anyway… this leads on well to start of my next notable part of 2012.. My role in the London 2012 Olympics, and boy what a time it was.

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I’m going to go back to the start of the process so bare with me..
The journey started on the 15th September 2010. I still cant remember what inspired me to apply to volunteer at the games (I have never volunteered before), I didn’t know much about (the games) at the time and it seemed forever away. I just remember hearing the news reports about the registration website opening for what they called “Games Makers” (the volunteer’s of the games) and that sparked my interest in taking a look at the website. At that time… the general feeling with the games as a whole was that it was going to be “a bit crap”. After Beijing it seemed that we were destined to put on a poor show. Looking back now after the games that seems ridiculous but that was the truth back then. Its the British way I guess! How wrong we were… Anyway, I thought “hey maybe we can make it special”, so I applied.

Not much really happened after then, I forgot about it, university life reigned supreme in my life as usual at the time. London 2012 was a distant event, If I even made it through the application/interview process that is.

Fast forward to April 2011, I was invited to the ExCel centre in London for my interview. I was picked for an interview with the technology team for the games, I’m guessing my application credentials best matched me for this type of role, which would be true. My interest was heightened. I arrived early, thousands of people were packed around the centre entrance, “wow” I thought, “this is crazy!” Then I noticed it was the entrance for a wedding convention or something.. ah. The entrance for my interview was actually through a small nondescript side door a few hundred meters away, hey ho.
I was early so I killed some time on the PSP outside, it was a nice day to be sitting around the docklands. My interview time came and I went in to register. The typical details were taken or confirmed and my photo was taken. Now, I went through to a small dark room to watch a humorous orientation video presented by Eddie Izzard that aimed to get us all buzzing with excitement, it somewhat worked, most likely due to the copious amounts of free Cadbury’s chocolate that was on offer from the sponsor though!
Afterwards the group of us waiting for our slot for an interview had time to mingle and talk about what we do, what we think about the games etc.  I quickly noticed a terrifying problem though, everyone I spoke to was much older than me, much more experienced than me and all had fascinating technoloy jobs that eclipsed me as a undergrad working a DIY hardware shop with a small college certificate in I.T. For example I spoke to: A Formula 1 timing system operator, a few I.T system admins for big city banks and an inventor who designed parts of the track and field laser based timing systems just to name a few. I Instantly felt like I was the odd one out, I must of slipped through the net of the selection process to get to this stage. I am a nobody! Gulp.

I went on for my interview feeling extremely awkward and out of place, for each question I was asked I was imagining the infinitely more interesting answers the people in the booths around me were giving for their greatest achievement, high point of their life type questions before I could even come up with my own measly answer, I stumbled though it. It wasn’t the greatest interview I have ever had that’s for sure.

I left, went home and forgot about it all again. Nothing happened for 6 months, absolute radio silence. I fluffed it. Until.. In October 2011 an email popped up in my inbox.

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Shocked for bit, I went on to see what role they had actually picked for me.. technology is a very broad line of work after all.

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Now.. I have to preface my following reaction this with the fact that, I love airports, air travel, planes, trains and cars etc. I don’t know what it is is. I’m not the only one, I know that. Its just a buzz when you travel, I love it. The people, the excitement  everyone is going somewhere and doing something, you really get to see a cross section of the world I think and this is especially true for being at the airport, and no other airport excites me more than London Heathrow. As a kid I remember travelling though it many times and It was magical.. It really is a a kid when you think about it, its a place you go to that leads you to somewhere else by the magic of flight. The buildings alone are maze, a masterpiece of networked corridors and escalators.
So… I couldn’t believe it! I didn’t even know at first what Heathrow has to do with the games (its no where near the action, its the other side of London!) Certainly nothing exciting will be happening there to do with the games.. how wrong I was. Heathrow was chosen to be the host airport for the London games. The athletes, teams, equipment, everything would be coming through the UK’s and one of the worlds busiest airports. My excitement was at an all time high. I used to wonder what it would be like working at an airport, it’s something I had in my mind from an early age as one of those really “cool”/dream jobs. Well, I was going to be working there soon, amazing.

Once again, not much happened for a few months but then the new year came, 2012 was here. In 6 months the games will be upon us.

I had my first training if you can call it that on a ridiculously cold and snow jammed Feburary day. It wasn’t a great situation, the weather prevented a lot of people making it (I ended up destroying parts of my little car’s bodywork trying to plough though 4/5ft of snow at one point on the motorway.. not good at all) maybe only 75% made it.. still an achievement that that that many made it. A sign of things to come.. little did I know.

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Snowfall wasn’t too bad near Wembley, the haze hangs over the stadium.

It was a strangely  secretive meeting of five or so thousand people at Wembley arena and one of many over the coming days to accommodate the tens of thousands of Londoners and local Games Makers. It really aimed at getting you buzzing for the games, what to expect, the hard, hard work you will be doing (for free!) and how we can all support each other to get though it. It was sobering but exciting at the same time.

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There were more people than this, I was early! Still some seats were empty due to the weather.

Things really start to ramp up now. Role specific training needed to take place and more excitingly venue specific training! In April I got my shifts, ten days in total split into two 5 day chunks comprising of early starts and some late shifts too (8am – 3pm / 3pm-10pm generally)

Training starts at none other than the 37th floor of a canary wharf skyscraper. Having never been up a a building like this it was in itself was exciting experience.

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The place was too quiet though, why were so many floors empty? It then hits me, these floors used to be where the bankers sat only a few months ago (Their huge logo still adorns the side of the building). A man with me in the lift told me the story of how it happened, one by one your phone rang, you packed you possessions into a box and left the room, and your job, and then the next phone would ring, slowly the rooms emptied in silence.. Sobering.
I came back to canary wharf on two more occasions and had the majority of the technology training. I’m feeling super excited now and equipped to go.

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Docklands skyline.

Next up, my venue specific training at LHR. I was really excited for this. It was June now and the start of my activity in the games was right around the corner. I travelled to Heathrow on the tube and made my way to the training centre just outside of the airport, the smell of jet fuel in the air always hits me and I feel like I should be going on holiday! My passport is in hand though for the tour of my my MIGHTY workplace that will commence later on.

Right, I think I’m going to split this post up up, its getting huge. I didn’t intend to document the whole experience  but I’m kind of enjoying reliving it a bit. Next time I will move onto actually working at LHR during “games time”.

IMG_1579s

 

Go to: Part 3

-R